Jun 15, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – As the school year winds down for most students, and with it the threat of school-related illness clusters, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has its sights set on preventing the spread of the novel H1N1 virus at another setting where kids congregate: summer camps.
Yesterday the CDC issued interim guidance to help day and residential camp administrators prevent and respond to novel flu outbreaks. The advisory comes on the heels of one of the first reported outbreaks at a camp.
An Asheville, N.C., Boy Scout camp that attracts about 700 participants from across the nation sent 19 sick scouts from Florida and Georgia home after 10 of them tested positive for the novel flu, the Associated Press reported today. Other sick campers and staffers have been quarantined, and camp administrators are screening others for symptoms.
Yesterday's guidance from the CDC includes basic measures such as educating campers and staff on staying home when sick, covering coughs, and washing hands frequently, but it also includes several specific suggestions for residential camps. For both day and residential camps, the CDC suggests developing a relationship with local health departments to assist with response planning and to become familiar with illness reporting requirements.
The CDC's guidance suggests that camps communicate with parents early on how illnesses will be handled and arrange ways for sick campers and staff members to be transported home from camp.
To reduce the risk of bringing the novel H1N1 virus to camp, the campers, staff members, and volunteers should be notified ahead of time that they cannot attend if they have had an influenza-like illness within the 7 days before camp begins or until they have been symptom-free for 24 hours. Those who have been exposed to a person who was sick with the novel virus or had a flu-like infection should be instructed to monitor and report any symptoms.
Camp officials should consider screening incoming campers to determine possible novel flu exposure and to determine if any young people or staff have preexisting medical conditions, such as asthma, that might increase their risk for flu complications.
Staff and volunteers should be taught how to recognize flu-like illnesses and quickly isolate campers who appear sick. For example, if separate rooms aren't available for sick campers, staff can use a part of a room with temporary barriers, a separate tent, or a separate cabin. Designated staff members—ones who don't have risk factors such as pregnancy—should care for the sick campers to avoid spreading the virus to others.
The CDC said camps should develop protocols ahead of time for evaluating sick campers, and a healthcare provider should be contacted for severely ill patients or sick campers who have underlying medical conditions.
Camps should supply plenty of hand sanitizers, especially for use during activities, such as hikes, in which campers don't have access to sinks and liquid soap.
Linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by sick campers don't need to be cleaned differently or separately, but those who handle soiled laundry should wash their hands immediately after touching it, the CDC guidance says.